Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. The 13-day uprising was sparked by students in Budapest, who protested the repressiveness of Hungary’s Soviet-controlled government and the ongoing presence of Soviet troops, who had occupied the country since the end of World War II.
The revolt drew support from Americans, who lauded the Hungarians’ attempts to overthrow their Communist oppressors. Part of the Eisenhower administration’s Cold War policy had been to encourage European inhabitants of the satellite states to take up arms to break away from the Eastern bloc. But much to the disappointment of many Hungarians, whose resources and manpower were dwarfed by those of the Soviets, the United States did not reinforce this policy with military assistance and the Revolution was quelled on November 10th, 1956.
Americans across the country, including those residing in Rochester, nevertheless provided other forms of support to Hungarians who had escaped the country and as well as those remaining in Eastern Europe.
Local chapters of major organizations such as the American Red Cross as well as religious groups such as the Catholic Family Center, took the lead in organizing fundraising efforts and clothing drives.
Rochesterians of Hungarian descent, such as the members of the Hungarian-American Club, also readily took actions to assist their brethren. One local chef who had fled Hungary in 1949, planned a special all-Hungarian menu at his Dewey Avenue restaurant in order to raise money for the cause.
“I felt, how shall I say it, personally involved in the fighting,” Continental Restaurant proprietor Oscar Szanta informed the Democrat & Chronicle, “You see, I know Budapest so well. Every picture run in the newspapers, every scene shown on television—I know the streets, I recognize the buildings.”
But even Flower City residents with no ties overseas were moved by the Hungarians’ struggle.
When waiters and waitresses at Eddie’s Chop House decided to give their Christmas bonus that year for refugee relief, the restaurant’s proprietors matched their employees’ total. Elementary students at School 29 opted to donate the money that was going to be used for their annual Christmas party to the Hungarian Relief fund.Edwards’ department store offered to give 5 dollars of every appliance purchase over 30 dollars to the cause. Sibley’s launched a drive for warm clothing and blankets. Hickey-Freeman pledged jobs to any Hungarian refugees that ended up in Rochester.
About 250 of the 200,000 Hungarians who fled the country in the wake of the Revolution made their home here.
After arriving in Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, refugees traveled by train to Rochester, where they received room and board at the Manger Hotel until they could be placed with a sponsor family.
The majority of the refugees were young men, most of whom were eager to find employment so they could start their new lives in the West: “I wish to make my way, to be dependent upon no one, to pay myself,” one émigré explained.
Many Hungarians were taken by the generosity of Rochester residents, who had offered up homes, clothing and jobs to the newcomers. Mrs. Alfred Nunzy, a 22-year-old woman who had carried her 2-year-old son 15 miles to the Austrian border before relocating to America, exclaimed: “I never believed that there could be so much brotherly love, that people could be so wonderful.”
Sandor Pikacs, the first Hungarian refugee to arrive in Rochester in 1956, expressed what many of his exiled countrymen were feeling when he informed a local reporter, “I feel so thankful to be in America. I have to pinch myself to be sure that all this is real. I would like to take off my hat and thank everybody I meet on the streets for letting me come here.”